An Exploration of Offsite Construction (And 3D Printing)
I have been a part of the construction industry for many years, and in all that time, I have observed something unexpected about the industry. As much as the feeling is that the industry resists change, it has evolved steadily and constantly.
Who could have thought that we could not only identify clashes but also rectify them before the construction began or that construction doesn’t need to happen at the construction site? It would have been hard to imagine a few years ago. But, here we are, and this is just the beginning of how technology is going to revolutionize the way we think and do things in our industry.
The ever-increasing infrastructure demands, and tight spaces on-site have opened the gates to offsite construction. As per one definition, “Offsite construction is the completion of elements or components of a construction project at a different location from where they will be permanently installed.” The offsite construction involves planning, design, and fabrication of the elements which are then built in the offsite manufacturing unit. The manufacturing unit can either be a permanent facility or a temporary facility built for the duration of a project. The finished product is then transported to the construction site for installation.
As they say, necessity is the mother of invention – the global construction industry is looking towards new and innovative ways to keep projects moving faster and more efficiently. And, offsite construction is just one of them. And, I feel this change has been long overdue in the industry.
3D Printing and Offsite Construction – What are they?
The current pandemic situation has made the world turn around to technology to innovate and fight against the COVID19 breakout. 3D printing found global attention when the medical fraternity turned towards it to meet the shortage in supply for masks and other equipment. But, did you know that the construction industry has been using 3D printing to revolutionize the construction methods and techniques for long?
Researchers have been toying with the idea of 3D printing since the early 80s. It took three decades for 3D printing technology to become mainstream but, it started becoming mainstream only recently.
3D printing is a combination of techniques that are used to print a physical structure. The three-dimensional physical structure is created from a digital file in 3D modeling software which is then brought to life via a 3D printer. The technology is relatively new for the construction industry. It is rapidly being developed and innovated to build complete structures like bridges and houses using materials such as concrete, metal, and resin. You would have all seen fascinating videos of homes being built in, what seems like, hours. That’s 3D printing at work.
Understanding the role of BIM in 3D Printing and Offsite Construction
In this technological age, people have certain expectations and demands like speed, accuracy, and an elevated user experience that cannot be fulfilled with traditional construction methods.
I believe that BIM technology is reshaping the digital landscape of the construction industry while offsite construction and 3D printing are set to reshape the physical landscape. And the two are deeply connected. The nature of the beast is such that you have to follow JIT methods. That leaves little flexibility in offsite construction schedules or onsite assembly or installation. To make offsite construction work you need extremely comprehensive, accurate, and current data about the site as it stands. That becomes the base for the elements that get constructed offsite. You cannot afford any gaps or deviations as that will make assembling the elements onsite incredibly difficult, if not impossible. That is where BIM models can deliver massive value. It’s remarkably similar with 3D printing. The structure comes up based on a detailed and comprehensive digital depiction. There’s truly little room for manual intervention or “on the fly” changes. This is a” made for BIM” use-case.
The benefits of 7-dimensional BIM have been well-established in our industry. Now it’s time to realize the potential of BIM in backing innovations like 3D printing and offsite construction.
The construction industry is at a cusp of a technological revolution with BIM, offsite construction, and 3D printing playing a crucial role in it. The future is digital. Considering the acceleration in the pace of life there is likely to be increasing pressure on construction companies to complete structures within a very short period. In essence, the construction industry will have to depend upon technologies like these to deliver better, faster, greener, and sustainable structures. It’s certain that BIM will play a key enabling role in all these developments!